CLIMATE CHANGE ROUNDUP: Low Carbon Fuel Standard Lobbied on National Security

By Published On: March 27, 2009

Amid heavy lobbying, the California Air Resources Board at its March 26 meeting heard an overview of its staff’s proposed low carbon fuel standard, a critical strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions under the state’s climate protection law, AB 32. The proposed standard is aimed at cutting emissions from automotive tailpipes in the state by 10 percent. Unless the standard works, the state would have to seek those emissions reductions from other sources, including the power industry. The standard would exclude corn-based ethanol as a low carbon fuel due to what the staff has found are increased greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol compared to gasoline. The extra emissions result from growing and processing corn into ethanol. They also come, the staff said, from clearing land to grow replacement crops for the corn once consumed as food. Clearing the land by burning vegetation and releasing a torrent of carbon dioxide is considered an “indirect” effect of turning crops into fuels. The presentation came after a group of former military leaders wrote to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger March 24. They argued that the proposed standard would compromise U.S. efforts to achieve energy security by undercutting the biofuels industry. Sixty-six veterans signed the letter orchestrated by the Truman National Security Project in Washington, including Robert “Bud” McFarlane, national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan. The nation needs ethanol today to minimize the amount of money it spends on oil from Saudi Arabia, which turns around and gives funds to Al Qaeda, said Frankie Strum, the project’s communications manager. He called the science behind indirect land-use related emissions from corn-based ethanol “uncertain” and noted the state failed to analyze indirect land-use impacts from other fuels covered by the standard. However, one of the original signatories of the letter withdrew his name from the letter March 25. Vice Admiral Dennis V. McGinn said he signed the letter because his “understanding” was that it “would simply champion the rapidly growing biofuels industry against an effort by fossil fuel advocates to weaken the low carbon fuel standard.” Upon examining the actual standard, McGinn changed his mind. He said he thought the standard was wise because it would guard against “the law of unintended consequences,” namely that corn-based ethanol would backfire and cause climate change to worsen. Military leaders are concerned about climate change as a security threat because it’s causing economic hardships and displacing an increasing number of people around the world, sowing the seeds of conflict. McGinn said he thought the federal government should duplicate California’s low carbon fuel standard. * * * * President Obama faces increasing pressure to back away from passing carbon cap-and-trade legislation with the federal budget process. Conservative lawmakers from both sides of the federal aisle have been pressuring him to bifurcate passage of the budget and carbon trading plan. In a March 24 evening news conference the president stated: “When it comes to cap-and-trade, the broader principle is that we’ve got to move to a new energy era, and that means moving away from polluting energy sources towards cleaner energy sources. That is a potential engine for economic growth.” When asked if he would remove the cap-and-trade legislation from the budget process he said. “The bottom line is, is that I want to see health care, energy, education, and serious efforts to reduce our budget deficit.” The next day, the U.S. Senate Budget Committee chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) released a budget resolution that would ax the trading system measure. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) was undecided about Obama’s plan to create a federal carbon cap-and-trade program. She told a daily radio show from Washington March 25 that she thinks a carbon tax also should be on the table as lawmakers consider how to cut greenhouse gases. In addition, Speier said Obama will negotiate on how to control carbon emissions. Earlier, a group of conservative Democrats in the House followed in the footsteps of a group of like-minded Democratic Senators who are trying to extricate carbon cap-and-trade legislation from the federal budget process. The group of representatives, which call themselves the Blue Dogs, stated in a cursory memo recently released that they also want any cap-and-trade revenue delinked from “any specific policy.” Pushing Obama the other direction is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA fast-tracked a scientific finding to set the stage for greenhouse gas emission reduction rules under the Clean Air Act, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. The finding is reported to be undergoing an inter-agency review. * * * * During a March 25 question-and-answer session with the press, President Barack Obama said: I’ve said that we’ve got to have a serious energy policy that frees ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy . I think cap-and-trade is the best way, from my perspective, to achieve some of those gains, because what it does is it starts pricing the pollution that’s being sent into the atmosphere. The way it’s structured has to take into account regional differences. It has to protect consumers from huge spikes in electricity prices. So there are a lot of technical issues that are going to have to be sorted through. Our point in the budget is: Let’s get started now. We can’t wait. And my expectation is that the Energy Committees or other relevant committees in both the House and the Senate are going to be moving forward a strong energy package. It will be authorized. We’ll get it done. And I will sign it. * * * * The U.S. Government Accountability Office has found that some federal agencies and program directors already are trying to adapt to climate change, as well as state and local governments. However, the Congressional watchdog agency said that government officials are hampered by a number of factors. First, climate change is one of many priorities competing for their attention and resources. Second, a lack of guidance limits their ability to consider climate change in management and planning decisions. Third, insufficient site-specific data, including a lack of local projections of expected climate changes, reduces their ability to manage. Finally, officials are struggling to make decisions based on future climate scenarios that may not reflect past conditions. The report, Observations on Federal Efforts to Adapt to a Changing Climate, is available on GAO’s website. * * * * San Diego Gas & Electric has entered a partnership with Nissan to integrate the automaker’s upcoming electric vehicle into automotive fleets in San Diego County and install vehicle charging infrastructure. The deal, announced March 23, seeks to create what the companies called “a critical mass” of electric vehicles in automotive fleets owned by cities, universities, companies, the port, the military, and other organizations to make the county one of the nation’s first “plug-in” ready regions. As part of the agreement, SDG&E said it would buy 15 to 20 of Nissan’s new battery electric vehicles, which are expected in 2010 for fleet sales and by 2012 for sale in dealer showrooms to individual motorists. “The support and involvement of local government and private fleet operators will be crucial to our success,” said SDG&E chief executive officer Debra Reed. She added the vehicles would help promote energy independence and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Use in auto fleets, said the utility, would establish the viability of electric vehicles and help identify “charging infrastructure needs.” Nissan said it would supply the electric vehicles through an alliance with the French automaker Renault. A prototype of the upcoming vehicle uses a Nissan developed lithium-ion battery pack. “They intend to make tens of thousands in 2010, so that’s a good indication of their progress,” said Paul Scott, a founding member of Plug In America, an electric vehicle advocacy group. After meeting with Nissan executives, Scott said March 24 that the battery pack should allow the vehicles to go 100 miles on a charge carrying up to five people at highway speeds. He added that the battery pack, which already is being manufactured by NEC for Nissan, can be fast charged.

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